United Kingdom

Introduction and Background

United Kingdom
The United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland (U.K.) is a group of countries that share a common monarch and government. Great Britain is composed of the countries of England, Scotland and Wales. In the 19th century, during the period of large-scale immigration to the United States, Ireland was part of the United Kingdom. The Kingdoms of Great Britain and Ireland were joined in 1800 by the Act of Union. Together, the kingdoms were known as the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland. This union was dissolved when Ireland, with the exception of the six Ulster counties that constitute Northern Ireland, became a self-governing dominion of Great Britain in 1921 with passage of the Anglo-Irish Treaty. Ireland is today known as the Republic of Ireland and is an independent nation.

For several centuries, the United Kingdom was one of the most powerful nations in the world. Following the English Navy’s defeat of the Spanish Armada in 1588, England became a major world power. After the defeat of Napoleon at Waterloo in June 1815, the United Kingdom became the world’s most powerful nation. For the next 124 years, the British Empire focused on building its colonial empire throughout the world. At the peak of its power, the British Empire controlled more than one-fifth of the world’s lands and peoples. Involvement in the two world wars of the 20th century was a massive drain on the nation’s resources, and the United Kingdom’s ability to maintain control over its colonial empire was compromised. In the years following the Second World War, former colonies of the British Empire gained their independence.

The United Kingdom has been settled by many groups and influenced by many cultures throughout its history. Most prominent among these are the Celts, Romans, Angles, Saxons, Vikings, and the Normans. During the last several hundred years, there has been widespread migration within the countries that form the U.K, as well as extensive immigration to the U.K. by citizens of Great Britain’s colonies, the fifty-three Commonwealth countries and other, foreign nations.

Immigration to the United States
The colonization and settlement of the American colonies, and the subsequent immigration to the United States by subjects of the United Kingdom, was due to many causes. Between 1620 and 1920, the United Kingdom experienced many changes and upheavals that led to mass migrations by its residents. Chief among these were the English Civil War; Religious persecution; a decrease in infant mortality rates and consequent increase in population; modernization of farming techniques and consolidation of farm lands; agricultural hardships, including droughts, blights and increased land rents; and early industrialization that led to greater opportunities for skilled laborers in the United States.

The United Kingdom is located off the northwest coast of continental Europe, between the North Atlantic Ocean and the North Sea. It is composed of many islands, including the large island of Britain, approximately one-sixth of the island of Ireland, and several smaller islands. The United Kingdom is about the same size as the State of Oregon.



The United Kingdom is home to more than sixty million people, which makes it a little larger than the combined populations of California and Texas, the two most populous states in the United States. In terms of population, the United Kingdom is the third largest nation in the European Union and the twenty-fourth largest nation in the world. The majority of the population lives in the large cities of England. London, the United Kingdom’s capital, has the largest population of any city in the United Kingdom, and is the largest city in Europe.

According to the United Kingdom’s Office for National Statistics, the population of constituent countries of the United Kingdom, as of mid-2006, is estimated to be : 1

  • England: 50,762, 900 (83.8% of the total population)
  • Scotland: 5,116,900 (8.4% of the total population)
  • Wales: 2,965,900 (4.9% of the total population)
  • Northern Ireland: 1,741,600 (2.9% of the total population)


More than ninety percent of U.K. residents are of European ancestry, most being English, Scottish, Welsh or Irish. However, there are sizable groups of ethnic minorities, especially in major metropolitan areas. London, the capital of the United Kingdom, is home to more than thirty ethnic communities of at least ten thousand residents each.

  • White 92.1%
  • (English – 83.6%
  • Scottish – 8.6%
  • Welsh – 4.9%
  • Northern Irish – 2.9%)
  • Black – 2%
  • Indian – 1.8%
  • Pakistani – 1.3%
  • Mixed – 1.2%
  • Other – 1.6%


The majority of people living in the United Kingdom speak English. Located throughout the U.K. are small populations that speak their native languages of Welsh (approximately twenty-five percent of those living in Wales), Scots, Cornish, Manx, and Scottish and Irish Gaelic. Likewise, with significant immigrant populations in urban areas, there are many other languages spoken within the U.K. More than three hundred different languages are spoken in London alone.


Graph: “Religions of the U.K.”

  • Christian (Anglican, Roman Catholic, Presbyterian, Methodist) 71.6%
  • Muslim 2.7%
  • Hindu 1%
  • Other 1.6%
  • Unspecified or none 23.1%

  • A meal of fish & chips (deep fried fish and fried potatoes) is an English favorite.
  • Roast beef is England’s traditional Sunday dish.
  • The sandwich, or at least the name given the meal, originated with England’s Fourth Earl of Sandwich.
  • Worcester sauce, although based on an Indian recipe, was invented in England in 1837.
  • Chicken tikka masala was first made in the United Kingdom, although it is based on South Asian dishes.

Last updated: January 12, 2017